“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.
I never want to see another picture of a girl emerging from water. Lately, many images of young women/girls floating in the water are appearing everywhere I go. It is hard not to feel compelled to make similar images because they combine two photographic subjects we love—portraits and water. What a golden combo indeed.
Now that photography has been around for almost 200 years, it is hard to come by a subject matter or aesthetic that hasn’t been done before in one way or another. While this notion might be terrifying, it is also something photographers should embrace in order to challenge ourselves to be better, bolder, and more critical about our practice. The photographic medium is shared with the public through numerous platforms, and we are exposed daily to thousands of images from amateur and established photographers, as well as legends in photography’s canon. Therefore, it is almost inevitable that some images and aesthetics might become a “trend.” We see a photo we like, it becomes engraved in our memory, and we sometimes mimic it without realizing—adding to the pool (no pun intended) of similar visuals.
I often think of Sally Mann’s famous photograph, “At Warm Springs, 1991,” depicting her daughter Virginia with her hair spread out perfectly on the water’s surface—one of the most mesmerizing photographs in our modern art world. My question is always: where is the line between inspiration and replication? This line is blurred. Having said that, Jen Ervin is a good rule breaker for this genre of photography. (Jen Ervin was featured in Don’t Take Pictures Issue 5.) I have followed her work, including her recent book, The Arc, for a long time. I admire how she is able to make Polaroid photographs that could potentially fall into cliché but never do. Captivating in their innocence through Ervin’s genuine observation, the end result is indeed beautiful. Beyond the beauty, I feel a strong sense of Ervin’s point of view—of who she is behind the camera. On the surface, her photographs resemble many others, by leaning on the artist’s sense of self, they exceed the obvious.
At the end of the day there are no real rules in art. All we are looking for is a good photograph that kicks us in the gut, makes us think, makes us feel, and inspires. Keep making art and keep making mistakes because it is the only way to break the rule and make something different and authentic.